State environmental officials plan crackdown against Harrah's Reno

RENO, Nev. - State environmental officials plan to crack down on Harrah's Reno over the pumping of contaminated ground water into the Truckee River.

Since at least 1995, Harrah's has been pumping ground water with elevated levels of the industrial cleaning solvent tetrachloroethylene, also known as perchloroethylene or PCE, state records show.

The ground water seeps into the bottom of the casino's elevator shafts, which sit at or below the water table, the Reno Gazette-Journal reported.

Although Harrah's is not responsible for the PCE, state officials say they probably will require the casino to begin removing the chemical when renewing its Truckee River discharge permit in September.

The sources of the cancer-causing chemical - which shows up in pockets of ground water throughout downtown Reno - are though to be dry-cleaning businesses, auto-body shops and gas stations that closed long ago.

Washoe County is in the process of determining the extent of the PCE contamination and coming up with a comprehensive cleanup plan.

The county set up a special tax district two years ago to raise money to remove PCE from the ground water, but it has taken longer than expected for the district to function fully.

''We've been talking with Harrah's and the folks with the remediation district for some time now,'' Allen Biaggi, administrator of the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection, told the Gazette-Journal.

''It's time to push the issue. Our patience is running somewhat thin on this one.''

Harrah's officials are frustrated that it's taking so long for the district to get going and that they may get hit with a big cleanup bill.

''We don't have any control over what's in the water,'' Harrah's spokeswoman Kerri Garcia said. ''We certainly did not create what was found.

''We have always been a strong supporter of the remediation district, and we're waiting for them to solve the problem of downtown.''

The PCE that Harrah's sends into the river does not appear to pose an immediate threat to humans and the river's aquatic life, state officials said.

But the PCE could become a threat during droughts when the Truckee's flow drops, they said.

The casino discharges about 214,000 gallons of water a day.

The PCE levels in Harrah's pumped water have averaged about 20 parts per billion over the last five years. The federal drinking water standard for PCE is 5 ppb.


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